What to expect from the Seahawks' overhauled run defense

RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks made a rare splurge on defensive end Dre’Mont Jones before reuniting with linebacker Bobby Wagner and nose tackle Jarran Reed in free agency to help shore up what was one of the NFL’s worst run defenses in 2022.

They’re counting on better familiarity with their scheme to be another factor.

And if you ask LB Jordyn Brooks, one of the holdovers from Seattle’s overhauled front seven, better vibes will also lead to better results against the run.

“I think it’s more so like attitude, man,” Brooks said. “Last year, we just got off to a bad start and it felt like ... it got too many guys frustrated to where we just couldn’t come together. We also got some new faces and I think just a fresh start of new faces, new energy, new vibes, having Bobby back in the building, I think we’ll be 10 times as better as we were last year and the year before -- I think we were top five.

“I think we can be first in the league this year, just because of the attitude.”

Brooks’ prediction was another example -- albeit an extreme one -- of the confidence inside the Seahawks’ locker room heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. There’s a clear expectation that their run defense will be much improved from the unit than ranked 30th in yards allowed in 2022 -- even with safety Jamal Adams still not back from injury, and even without the anticipated addition that never came to be as teams trimmed their rosters to 53 last week.

“Everything starts up front,” Reed said. “So if you’re the 30th run defense, they’re going to blame the front. I can guarantee it’s not going to happen this year. We’re not going for that. We’re playing hard, we’re practicing hard, we’re very confident without being arrogant.”

The Seahawks brought back Reed after two years away while turning over more than half of their front seven this offseason. Of the 13 linebackers and defensive linemen who played at least 100 snaps for Seattle in 2022, seven of them were either cut or not re-signed. Clearly, the Seahawks felt their personnel -- both in terms of talent and scheme fit -- were a big reason for their struggles against the run.

In addition to giving up more rushing yards (150 per game) than all but two teams, Seattle’s defense finished 26th in yards per carry (4.9) and 28th in yards post-contact per rush (2.02), which was indicative of a lot of missed tackles that led to big runs.

The nine rushes of 30-plus yards they allowed were second-most. None was more painful than Josh Jacobs’ 86-yard walk-off touchdown for the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime of Week 12. The New Orleans Saints' Taysom Hill ran through Seattle’s defense for a 60-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of another narrow loss in Week 5. Jordan Mason, a 49ers backup, sealed San Francisco’s win in Week 15 when he broke free for 55 yards.

On and on the big runs went.

Go figure that Seattle allowed the second-lowest yards-per-carry average (3.8) in 2021 with much of the same personnel as ‘22.

“I think a lot of the guys, it was like their first time playing with one another,” said Wagner, who spent last season with the Rams. “It’s really a feel thing. So I think me coming back, I’ve been around Jordyn for a while, I know how he reads certain things, I know how he does certain things. I’ve been around J-Reed, I’ve been around a couple of the guys up front.”

Whether it was intentional or not, Reed’s comment about the defensive line inevitably bearing the blame hinted at a larger truth about Seattle’s run defense in 2022, which is that it was an all-three-levels issue. And it went beyond personnel. In addition to switching to a 3-4 front last year, the Seahawks ran more split-safety looks on the back end, relying less on the Cover 3 that had long been a staple. The transition led to mix-ups in run fits.

“Things are a lot cleaner right now,” defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. “It’s going into Year 2 of it, so it’s a better understanding.”

The Seahawks plan to use Adams extensively at weak-side linebacker alongside Wagner and/or Brooks once he returns, which should put him in position to be a difference-maker against the run.

Mario Edwards Jr., a well-traveled veteran who’s playing on a minimum-salary deal, is another new face along their defensive line. He’ll play end opposite Jones, with Reed at the nose. Nose tackle Cameron Young and end Mike Morris, both Day 3 picks, returned from injuries that sidelined them for part of training camp and are projected to fill rotational roles.

While it didn’t happen via a trade or a waiver claim around cut-down day, the Seahawks are still looking to add another piece to their defensive line -- specifically, a Morris-like body type moreso than a nose tackle.

“Ted Thompson would always say, ‘Keep your powder dry towards the end of the season’ so you have enough cap room and or space in cash to work with towards the end of the season,” general manager John Schneider said, referencing his old boss with the Green Bay Packers.

To that end, the Seahawks created more than $6.6 million in cap space by restructuring Adams’ contract earlier this week. That leaves them with around $10 million, according to OverTheCap.com.

But for now, they’re rolling with what they’ve got -- and expecting all their new pieces to play better than last year’s group did.

“It’s a feel thing, it’s a trust thing,” Wagner said. “Trusting the guy’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, trusting that I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be. We’ve been building that trust since I got back and I feel really confident about where we’re going.”